I really don’t think it’s that we need to be told what’s right. I am open to the possibility that there are exceptions to this, but I really do think most of us have some sense—a shared, deep and profound sense that children should not go hungry—that no child should, in truth, lack for any of her or his most basic needs—that no child should be victimized by any kind of violence, and that we are all to be about creating and maintaining a safe environment of encouragement and possibility. It’s a big picture kind of thing—a world view, and not to share it is indicative of a sad and dangerous brokenness.
And the truth of the matter (though we don’t always put words to this truth) is that our acknowledged big picture of what’s right constitutes the dream of an alternate reality—the significant, revolutionary declaration that things are not as they should be. Too many children die. Too many children aren’t cared for, and the world is all the poorer for it. I don’t think we need to be told what’s right.
I’m not even sure most of us need to be told what to do, though I am open to the probability that there are exceptions to this! What I do believe, without question or reservation, is that we all need to be told—and told again and again and again—we all need to be told—we all need to be consistently reminded that what we do matters.
Because it’s all too easy to separate the nitty-gritty specifics of our day-to-day decisions—decisions about how to relate to people, what and what not to say, what to condemn, what to justify, what to celebrate, what groceries to buy and what laundry detergent, what TV to watch, what TV not to watch, what leisure activities to encourage—and why—it’s too easy to separate all that we think rather insignificant (laundry detergent?) from our big picture of what’s right—of the way we know the world should be. And again, it’s not that we don’t know what that big picture is, and it’s not that we don’t care. It is rather, I believe, that too often, we don’t see the connection—the connection between our living and our hope for creation. If my daily being isn’t going to change—isn’t going to effect the big picture (and why would I believe it could?), why bother? It’s out of my hands.
That’s the purview of government policy, we think. That’s the arena of multi-national corporations. And yet policy is not just what governments decide. It’s not just about the bottom line of big business—though it is that and though thus our voices must be heard in the assessment of such policy, but policy is also the priority that shapes our own standards of being and relating.
And as many ways—different ways—conflicting ways—there are of trying to work toward right, we do seem to critically need a greater clarity in evaluating what we do. And if we inseparably interweave our big picture and our day-to-day, then we legitimately ask …. is it really too much to ask—that policy—whatever it is we’ve been trying, be evaluated not in terms of its ideology, but in terms of its effectiveness? If children still go hungry, die of lack of needed medical, then it’s not working, and whether or not it will or might or would is not a theory worth dead children. And so we should try something else and keep trying until there aren’t children dying.
And so I make my commitments (they are not insignificant; they are connected), I will not answer violence with more of the same. I will not condone the disrespect of another’s dignity. I will be intentional about what I buy, and I will let those around me know I expect the same from them. Surely if enough of us do this—loudly and insistently, those elected to represent us will notice, and represent us, and government will decide differently and the bottom line of business will shift (yes, I’m the optimist!).
Priorities need to shape policy and action, and ultimate priorities need to take precedence over important ones, and I don’t know that there’s a more ultimate priority than, let’s stop killing children!
Our faith story reminds us in the midst of what we know is right, that the little decisions we make everyday shape the reality we create by our being and make of our living an instrument—a trajectory, or, to completely mix metaphors, a gravity—within God’s ongoing creation.
And so we tell and retell these simple stories as reminders of who we’re created to be—we recite our lessons and sing our songs—our affirmations about how God created us to be. And while the Sermon on the Mount is often presented as a list of rules and commandments (here’s what to do, here’s what’s not to do), and it’s certainly not that there aren’t lessons there, but, more importantly, the Sermon presents basic assumptions—presuppositions, that we need constantly reinforced: the world, as it is, is upside down, and in an upside down world, to live right side up, is to upend everything. And we do so need reminders of this wisdom that is foolishness, this strength that is not might because what we need more than the knowledge of what to do is the trust—the assurance—that allows us to do it.
It is our faith stories that remind us of our individual and corporate importance—remind us that our decisions about groceries (how far are they shipped before they get to me? what’s put on them while they’re growing?) and laundry detergent (how much do I need to use per load? is it biodegradable?) and clothes (who made them and how much were they paid? who’s making the most money off the price?) and relationships do matter in the big scheme of things—so we don’t lose sight of the power to shape reality that is our being in the world—so that we don’t give into feelings of helplessness or cynicism—and so we cultivate the discipline of believing ourselves into a reality that isn’t yet.